Will His Last Card Be An Ace?

Brian Burke Has Played The Perfect Hand In Leading USA To Gold-Medal Game

Gold Medal Game: USA vs. Canada - Today, 2:15pm CST

Brian Burke insists he isn’t playing any cards. If that’s the case, he’s either a master bluffer or has an incredible poker face.

Either way, Burke and his U.S. Team have a seat at the final table. The antes have been upped and the stakes are high. On the line is an Olympic gold medal and a place in history.

“I think a gold medal immortalizes your team, the same way winning a Stanley Cup does,” Burke said on Saturday.

“As Fred Shero told his Philadelphia Flyers during the 1974 Stanley Cup finals, ‘Win together today and walk together forever.’ ”

It may be just a coincidence that Shero’s son, Ray, had a hand in building this U.S. Team on the verge of the biggest upset in Olympic hockey history since, well, 1980.

Burke has understood the magnitude of this day ever since he was named general manager of the U.S. team more than two years ago. He has been building for it ever since, just as the pressure has been building on Canada since the day that Vancouver was announced as the host city.

“I don't feel any pressure on our team. All the pressure is on Canada, and it has been for quite some time,” said Burke, who is in his second season as the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“Hockey is not a sport in Canada. It’s a cult, a religion. That’s why I love working in Canada for a Canadian hockey team.”

The Canadian media has heard it all before and finally called Burke’s bluff. He didn’t budge, raising the stakes by taking the local experts to task.

“I defy anyone in this room to show me a newspaper article that said we would be in this game,” Burke said.

“If you guys believe Canada is the underdog you should put on some knee-high boots because the manure is piling up.”

It seemed to work. The U.S. Team flew under the “experts” radar and won its first two games against Switzerland (3-1) and Norway (6-1) to set up the Super Sunday showdown with Canada.

The Americans scored early against future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur and then hung on for dear life on the back of Miller’s 42-save performance.

That set the U.S. up as the No. 1 seed after the preliminary round and gave them a bye into the quarterfinals.

Not happy with some of his players, Burke called them out in the media, blistering players who weren’t “pulling on the rope.”

The pep talk in the press seemed to help as the Americans played a solid if not spectacular game against the Swiss (2-0) and dominated the Finns (6-1).

“What I like best about our team is we’ve played better as the tournament has gone on,” Burke said.

“I thought against the Swiss and the Finns that we had everybody playing well, not just 10 guys pulling on the rope.”

While Burke continues to revel in the role of Olympic underdog, he has never waivered in his belief in his young team that is a mixture of rising stars and “grunts.” That confidence starts in goal and works its way out.

“I’m really proud of our guys,” Burke said. “We have one last task to fulfill and hopefully we will do that tomorrow.”

And at that point the U.S. Team will be able to walk together forever, with Brian Burke in the lead.

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